What the Christmas tree tax means for produce

12/09/2011 09:51:00 AM
Tom Karst

Growers are naturally chapped because their efforts to work together to promote fresh Christmas trees (domestic and imported) and fend off cheap Chinese artificial tree imports are somehow being portrayed as a wacky liberal agenda. 

Misinformation killed the Christmas tree promotion order. For example, some said the promotion order would hurt smaller producers, but producers and importers who marketed under 500 trees would have been exempt under the program. 

David Addington of the Heritage Foundation set the stage for the Obama retreat. 
In his column headlined “Obama Couldn’t Wait: His New Christmas Tree Tax” on Nov. 8, Addington skewered President Obama and paid scant attention to the fact that growers, not the president, wanted the 15-cent assessment.

Here is one barb:

“The economy is barely growing, and 9% of the American people have no jobs. Is a new tax on Christmas trees the best President Obama can do? And, by the way, the American Christmas tree has a great image that doesn’t need any help from the government.”

GOP lawmakers piled on. While Christmas tree growers were out in the field tending their crop and hoping for better times and new promotion efforts, the Web exploded. 

Google “Christmas tree tax” and you will find 132 million search results.

USDA backed off on Nov. 14 in a Federal Register notice:

“On November 8, 2011, a final rule was published in the Federal Register ... establishing an industry-funded promotion, research, and information program for fresh cut Christmas trees, effective November 9, 2011. Due to recent events, the regulations are stayed in order to provide all interested persons, including the Christmas tree industry and the general public, an opportunity to become more familiar with the program.”

Can this “wait-and-see” approach work? Of course not. It is out of the question in this political environment. There is no way the “Christmas tree tax” will be revived during the 2012 election cycle.

I’m disappointed USDA career officials weren’t able to turn back the White House impulse to stand down and vacate support for the promotion program. 

After all, marketers of avocados, mangoes, potatoes and many other crops rely on those USDA promotion programs.   

And if the fruit and vegetable industry ever decides it needs and wants a national generic promotion program — and it should, in my view — it should demand assurance the USDA and the White House can find their backbone to fend off baseless political attacks.


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Chuck Robinson    
Lenexa, Kan.  |  December, 12, 2011 at 02:43 PM

Wow, that was an artful way of calling the Obama administration spineless when it seems the Heritage Foundation and others deserve a shellacking. This will come to pass once the bluster has quieted down after Chirstmas. In the scheme of things, this isn't the big issue to debate, and it is silly to suggest there is any winning it until the factless attackers let up. Why not call out the the people who ginned up the story and completely misrepresented the facts?

Frank Gasperini    
Virginia  |  December, 13, 2011 at 09:29 AM

Good article Tom. This serves to illistrate that agriculture must hold the feet of BOTH sides, both parties to the fire and never assume that political opinions of one side of the other are infallable, just because of who they are.

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